Archive for the 'firefox' Category

Battle for standardization continues

January 5, 2007

I read an interesting post over on Alex Faaborg’s site today about microformats and how Firefox 3.0 will be using microformats to change Firefox into a “… an Information Broker.”

Much in the same way that operating systems currently associate particular file types with specific applications, future Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online. This means the contact information you see on a Web site will be associated with your favorite contacts application, events will be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations will be associated with your favorite mapping application, phone numbers will be associated with your favorite VOIP application, etc.

This is going to change the way we interact with data on the Web, and it’s something that I am going to be blogging about all this week, stay tuned.

I find this to be as exciting as it is frustrating, all in the same breath.  Ok, so microformats could be the future, it could enable us to truly “write once – use everywhere”.  Some of the examples from the article which get me heated are:

For instance, if you want to sell something, you can blog about it using an hListing, and a site like edgeio will find it when it aggregates classified advertisements across the Web.

Similarly, the microformat hReview allows the creation of review aggregation sites, and XFN (XHTML Friends Network) allows the creation of social network aggregation sites.

When I first started to understand the search process (back when you had to “tag” your sites on Yahoo with a form and Webcrawler was the only “spidering” web site out there) I was promised that we would be able to place “xml” style tags or “semantic” markup in our HTML which specialized sites and search engines would pick up and treat differently.  For instance, a site that would go out and collect information about products would be able to compare 10 online book stores prices for a book if we put something like <isbn-10>1590593812</isbn-10> in our HTML.  The web browser would ignore it but the site would catalog the results and offer comparisons.  That was in 1996.

Now take some more semantic style searches like say at a government site.  I worked with APR Smartlogik on a great project which highlighted Europes advancements in standardization.  Essentially, the UK governement mandates that all pages on a governments public facing web site have meta content which complies with eGMS standards.  Compliant pages have special meta tags which have content tagged against the IPSV taxonomy which allows smarter search engines to index content better.  If you have every tried to find information about when trash is picked up or where the town compost drop off is located then you know what I mean.

I guess my real gripe is that this is all good but let’s get there already.

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Add-Ons for IE vs. Extensions/Themes/Add-Ons for Firefox

October 10, 2006

Before we begin we need to be clear on the definition of on Ad-on.

Ad-on’s ARE:
1.) Applications that offer time saving benifts and enhance your online experiene
2.)
Applications that are integrated directly in the browser (Developer’s
tool kit, Flickr upload tool, Sage RSS Reader, GMail account tracker,
IE View etc..)

Ad-on’s are NOT:
1.) Links to external applications from within the browser
2.)
Applications that add completly no value or have no clear definition of
purpose (this definately comes from both sides of the camp – IE:
Developers Toolbar – Firefox: US Department of Homeland Insecurity
Idiocy Level)

General
Ad-on’s are becoming a hot topic especially with the impending launch of IE 7 (which appears to be next month). Currently there are 1800+ Add-on’s available for the Firefox browser and approximately 435 available for IE7 (which is not to bad considering the browser is still in beta). The idea behind the growth of Ad-on’s is pretty simple – improve the experience of the online user. We are constanly on-line working in or around our browser. Whether we are searching for information on the web (hopefully work related) or we are using the Web to access information from various Web based applications. The Web browser is our window into the world of information.

A while ago the notion of the “Web browser as the desktop” became a popular topic of discussion and quite frankly it makes a lot of sense. For instance, right now I have at my finger tips (i.e. without leaving Firefox), the ability to check my email, look at all of my RSS feeds, post to my blog, upload pictures and find any information I want. Although I have other tools opened (One Note, Eclipse, Outlook and IE 7 – doing some comaprisons), a majority of what I need is all right here. Why would I leave.

Sophistication
The main difference between the IE7 and Firefox “tools” are the level of sophistication. Firefox has been at it longer and the developer’s community has responded. Additionally, the API’s available for the Firefox browser require “lite” programming knowledge (you don’t need to know Com Objects, Java Objects or true Object Oriented programming). I will admit, there is a lot available to you in Javascript that has an Object oriented feel (and I may be bias because I like JavaScript so much) but it seems easier to understand.

With the launch of the Windows RSS Platform, Windows and IE7 are starting to tip the scales a bit. You can details here, but the general idea is that your OS would manage a Common Feeds List. Firefox Add-ons currently can post your RSS feeds (and bookmarks) to various placess, but there is no central repository. One that I feel is important. While this Platform is interesting, the only application that is currently taking advantage of this is the “Desktop Sync” application which is not truly an Ad-on since it breaks rule number one of the Ad-on’s definition.

What is interesting though is the concept of the Platform. What I could envision are many RSS applications tied into the browser as Ad-on’s that utilize this common-feeds architecture.

Accessing the outside from within
The idea of updating a hosted Web application from the browser is not totally new. Firefox has allowed developers to build unique tools which keep users up to date with their information stored in various applications. For instance, there are a few GMail extensions available in Firefox which will notify you when a new email arrives and will even show you a snippet of that email. I am actually a bit surprised that non one has written an extension which allows for easy uploads of RSS feeds to NewsGator (would be really nice if it also notified you when a feed is updated).

IE Addons – http://www.ieaddons.com/default.aspx?cid=4&scid=79 (also available from within the IE 7 browser)
Firefox Addons – https://addons.mozilla.org/ are also available within the browser.

The edge clearly goes to Firefox here and that goes even without talking about Themes (Azerty III for me currently).

powered by performancing firefox

Flock

July 8, 2006

Ok like a “Flock of sheep” or a “Flock of seagulls”? Nope, Flock as in the Web browser. I found this new browser by reading TechCrunch. I decided to try it out and I have been using it ever since. Sure it has it’s quirks and I don’t seem to mind some of the “pitfalls” (described below). I also, don’t use all of the features, but you know what? I like it… and here’s why.

1. It’s Firefox.
Yup, the core engine of this baby is Firefox. So, all of the same things I like about Firefox (read my earlier posts) are still here.

2. Best News Reader (for free!).
I was a huge fan of Sage – the extension for Firefox which handled all of my needs for news reading. Then I tried this. I have to say today that this is probably the single reason that I use Flock soo much.

2a. Downloads RSS Automatically
One of the things that I didn’t like about Sage (and I did not realize I didn’t like it until I tried Flock) was that you had to force Flock to retrieve your RSS. It did not do it on a scheduled basis. Flock is constantly reloading your RSS. That means it will notify you when there are new articles by changing the News Reader Icon (which is a part of the normal browser window icons – like Back, Forward, Stop).
2b. Reader is easy to use (once you understand it)
The news reader loads all of the feeds in the left pane (which shows and hides automatically whenever you go to an RSS feed). On the Right side it will show all of the posts pretty neatly.

2c. The look and feel is better
I like the way the news reader looks. Each feed has a little icon next to it (based on the icon located in the RSS or the favicon.ico on the site hosting the RSS feed). The layout of the content in the right page is preceded by a management header that allows you to mark all posts as read. Boy I could go on and on about the reader.

3. It’s cool.
The icons for the browser are a ton better than those of Firefox. It’s ice blue.

4. Integrates directly with Photobucket and/or Flickr
Yup, it has an integrated tool which allows you to upload images directly to your photobucket or flickr account. (I have since found this to not be as useful as the new Picassa – which I will post about soon).

5. Integrates directly with your Blog
Click Ctrl + B and it opens a little word pad window which allows you to post about something while your are reading. I have been using Performancing (which loads nicely in Flock too!) so this tool has little use for me.

6. Integrates the Stop button and the Refresh button
Yeah, never really realized how silly two buttons for Stop and Refresh were. When you start navigating to a site, you would not need to click refresh (at least not frequently – F5 works fine for me). So the refresh button automatically switches to a Stop button. Then when a page loads all the way it switches from a Stop button to a Refresh. No need to hit Stop when a page is loaded already.

It was some of these little things which interested me. Hey someone was thinking about how we use the web.

So what are some of the pitfalls for this product?

1. Doesn’t support folders (or sub-folders) in the bookmarks or Toolbars
I am a big fan of organizing. I have not switched over to this whole “Tagging” thing yet so I am much more efficient loading up a folder with common links. It makes it easier for me to manage my links. I may get better at using Delicious but for right now, I don’t have enough time to tag all of my links.

2. The settings on the News Reader were not intuitive at first and defaulted to a setting I found unuseful
The reader by default would not display anything. That is because by default when you clicked on the left nav to see a feed you had registered, it would immediately mark all the links in the feed as read. When I set the settings to be logical (or at least what I thought to be logical – to display only “New” items) nothing was “New”. They had all been marked as Read when I clicked on the feed so they were now all “Viewed” so, they did not show up.

Annoying at first, but with some help from a friend, we found the setting that “Mark[ed] feeds as viewed when selected in the sidebar”. Now the setting in the main window to only display “New” items was correct. Happy Day!

3. Some of the existing Firefox extensions were not compatible
At first it appeared that there was a complete difference between the two platforms when it came to extensions. Now it appears that there has been somewhat of a convergence and tools have been built to make Firefox Only extensions work in Flock.

So what does this mean (and why am I really using Flock)? For me it shows me how important (and powerful) the browser has become. This tool can now Read RSS, Aid in organizing and post pictures to your favorite image site, Post to your blog and oh yeah by the way…browse the Internet. I know that Firefox can do all of this with extensions but all of this is “Out of the box” with no extensions needed. It shows that there is some movement on the integration of applications with your web browser.

A quick note: Photobucket is now distributing a custom Flock browser which only supports uploading images to the Photobucket site. In addition, there are rumors that Yahoo will be doing the same (only removing Photobucket). Let the games begin.

Share your OPML

May 16, 2006

I have spoken a bit about RSS in the past and this topic runs along those lines.  If you get into RSS feeds and readers you may also get into sharing your feeds with others.  You could liken this to the ability to sharing links (a la del.icio.us).  The site (which was started by the creator of RSS – Dave Winer) is
http://share.opml.org/ a little light on the feature list and quite frankly I can not see this site growing really large but it is interesting anyways.

The basic idea is that you would export your RSS readers list of feeds using a technology specification called OPML Outline Processor Markup Language.  Most readers will export the list in that format so this process is pretty painless.  OPML in short is an XML file with a particular layout.  Once you create an account and upload your OPML file you get some links on the right side of the page.  The two nicest features that I can see are the “Subscriptions Like Mine” and the “Top 100 Feeds” links.  These are indexes, the first based on match ups from your list and the second being the most popular RSS feeds found in everyone’s list.  Unfortunately, the “Subscriptions like mine” link does not appear to work.  It may be that I had just signed up and the tools on the site had not caught up with my post.

What I think is interesting about this site is that it is a litmus test of sorts.  If you look at the top 100 you will notice that besides a few feeds like CNET News.com and Bloglines, these feeds are all technical feeds.  If you remember before we talked about the masses here and while there has been some debate as to what will drive RSS to the masses, a site like this will at least let us know when that shift will be made.

What I would imagine will happen is that the distribution to the masses will happen automatically.  What I mean is that people will be using RSS without really knowing it.  Much like HTML.  When the web hit the masses back in the mid 1990’s people had no idea what HTML was.  They understood the power of HTML but did not know that they were using it.  I could see that same process happening with RSS.  More importantly, for this technology to truly meet the masses, it has to happen.  People don’t care about the architecture, they care about the functionality.

So what would that look like?  Is Firefox’s definition of “Live Bookmarks” the answer?  They don’t call it RSS, the call it “Live Bookmarks”.  So what people may understand is that they can create a bunch of Live Bookmarks which show “snippets” of content from their favorite sites directly within their browsers without having to go the page.  The browser would be using RSS behind the scenes without the user  ever knowing this.

A natural extension to this would be the ability to “share” my Live Bookmarks.  This extension would behind the scenes be enabled using OPML.  The browser could also be enabled to show “recommended” Live Bookmarks based on the cross-reference of your feeds against others.

So you may know it is hitting the masses when you see feeds in here from WWTDD.com.

I know YOU know … but when will they?

April 28, 2006

I am sure that you have heard of RSS and that you have probably even used it today (more than twice??), you may have even developed some RSS content.  If you have seen it, used it and/or built you … You Know!  You can see what is going on here.  When you look at it, RSS is such a powerful technology it gave Firefox (a faster moving software company) the ability to compete against a monumental giant.
Yeah I know, the tabbed browsing … faster loading pages … standards based support … the security aspects; sure those are all valid points.  Combine those with what I find to be the easiest way to distribute the power of RSS.

Seen this icon before: Live Bookmark Image 

This icon (which IE7 has remarkably adopted to display its "live bookmark" content) will help push RSS to the masses.  The people who _don't_ know.

If you read less than 10 websites on a regular basis then maybe you don't need it.

If you read less than 10 websites on a regular basis then … you are boring … step aside and get in line.

Seriously, though there is a TON of information out there and it is impossible to keep up with it.  RSS gives you what I feel, the only way to truly discover new information on a regular basis.

I have been interviewing some smart people recently and I am utterly amazed at the number of those smart people who know nothing about RSS.  Only 1 of the last 7 people that I have interviewed for various TECH positions at a Web based CMS solution knew what RSS was.  Yes, Web based!

Getting this type of technology (which dates back to 1999) to the masses is critical.  The more people that know what a news reader is (My reader is Sage – more on the Firefox Extensions), the better.

If you don't know … then ask … we want to help.